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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 513

Dr THEOPHANOUS(6.16) —I will confine myself to a few brief comments. We have before us the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Amendment Bill, which is intended to be part of the overall Budget package in terms of the necessary collections of revenue that the Government needs in order to carry out its overall spending program. The pious remarks made by the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) are really quite misplaced. It is time that he and other members of the Opposition got their heads together and tried to work out something that remotely resembles a coherent economic strategy rather than trying to make various personal points which are no substitute at all for a coherent policy.

The honourable member mentioned that the Australian Labor Party had been opposed in the Senate last year to certain indirect tax changes. Let me make it very clear that we are still opposed to the imposition of indirect taxes on food , clothing, books and other such necessities of life. It was the intention of the previous Government to impose such taxes. We have not changed our position on that matter at all. At no stage have we indicated that we are totally opposed to every conceivable increase in indirect taxation. Such a statement would be an absurdity. Obviously, in certain situations, indirect tax is important because it is a tax on those who can afford to pay. In certain circumstances such tax needs to be imposed or increased. This is a very different proposition from the proposition of imposing indirect tax on low income earners, the unemployed and the poor, who are not in a position to pay. As I have mentioned, in this regard we certainly are not imposing indirect tax on foodstuffs, clothing, books and printed matter.

As regards the overall role of indirect taxation in the strategy of this particular Budget, we have had to increase some indirect taxes as a necessary measure, but we have also managed to increase expenditure to a considerable degree without increasing direct taxation. This is a substantial achievement under the circumstances. The Government was faced with a horrifying budgetary situation left to it by the previous Government.

One thing that needs to be mentioned in relation to such indirect taxes is the tightening of procedures regarding their collection. We find in the Auditor- General's report of last year relating to excise taxes that there are a considerable number of difficulties and loopholes. I think this is an area that needs to be looked at by parliamentary committees and by the Government to ensure that, where just, indirect taxes are imposed, those taxes are paid and are not avoided. I believe that the measures outlined are quite reasonable under the circumstances of the budgetary situation in which the Government found itself. I urge the House to pass these measures forthwith.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.